From unreleased footage of a BBC documentary on Wallace Stevens

Before i risk misleading you, this is a fictional poem from a short collection of poems i wrote called The Wallace Variations, which take Wallace Stevens’ life & work as a theme to be used fictionally, philosophically, stylistically & other such avenues. Another poem called Return to Vesuvius is also from this unpublished, short collection.
Kreymbourg was Stevens’ editor & did receive Peter Quince at the Klavier.

From Unreleased Footage of a BBC documentary on Wallace Stevens

Sometime in 1915, the manuscript of Peter Quince
alighted on the desk of Alfred Kreymbourg
to be touched up & tamed, whilst Wally in a quandary thought
: Susanna’s beauty if a booby trap, I’m saying if,
means that the red eyed elders have been trumped,
they’re the victims of a beauty God has tempt them with
—are they then still the lustful creatures making havoc of purity…?

This kept poor Wally wide awake in the traffic nights
of New York City away from his quilt & wife, in that order of importance.
He was content to be away from her, to gauge his Sybil;
to masturbate in a warm bath over unrequited love;
to study art & know it is but poems in different shapes
his mind unburdened of insurance & envelopes.
The simper of the Byzantines could cause the earth to quake?

But Kreymbourg had been bowled over by the work
the lusty passages, the music, colour, tip-toeing Byzantines
—the cymbals & the boom boom of tambourines, all did a number
on the sensibilities of him, a victim of the temporal
—he’d bathed too long in that green pool beside Susanna,
too long inhabited the elders’ blood & tested Quince’s chords
on his 4 walls so they might hum that tune when he was gone.

Kreymbourg drank something & let out a gasp
of satisfaction as the room fell silent but for a fugue in C
that bolted from the manuscript, oddly enough.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Tim Miller says:

    A nice poem for the informed, DPM, WS’s journals from living in NYC by himself before getting married are strangely heartbreaking & then dull. But we need these stories, even the made up ones. I remember Faulkner walking into an apartment and tossing the housepaint-stained manuscript of Sound & the Fury to his pal & saying something like, “Read that, it’s a real sonofabitch.” If I wrote a poem about it he’d have to be Bill or Billy, to yr poor Wally Stevens. He probably never thought somebody wd write about him jerking off, but you know he’d get a chuckle out of yr koan-esqe title…. I’ve long thought there’s a serio-comic fictional epic waiting to be written, about his secretary at the insurance firm, who he apparently dictated poems to every morning when he got in to work. What kind of enlightenment must she have found, or not? Thanks for bringing Wally to mind today.

    1. i hope you don’t mind but i must correct your reading: Stevens at this point has been married to Elsie 6 years, he married her against his parents wishes in 1909. The poem has him lament this through his soliloquy, in which Susanna plays the part of Sybil Gauge, who was the true love of Stevens, but Stevens never ended up marrying. His internal revision of the effect of beauty is essentially him struggling with want over duty; Sybil over Elsie.
      i think there is a trove of potential for this sort of poem, a sort of fictional aside to the reality, a sort of sophistic history, if you wanted to push it.
      i think straight history doesn’t do it for me, but an admixture gives the reader something additional to a good biography, a fiction & a form that borrows from a poet they perhaps already admire.
      The “jerking off” is crude i know, but i think it creates a vulnerability a sense of loneliness & trying to fill it with anything. It isn’t just shock value, that doesn’t interest me.
      You gave me a good idea now with the secretary, i think there’s an interview around with her, somewhere, i’ll have a pillage of Google. Unless you get there before me.
      Nice to have you chime in these days. i think i may owe you an email, i forgot where we were. Hope your well pal.

  2. Frank Hudson says:

    Did you ever find the link to Stevens’ secretary’s account? I was lead to wonder the same thing today as I was posting about my musical performance of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream.” Like you, if there’s no extant account, there’s much to be imagined.

    1. What ‘link’ is that Frank? You mean a website?

  3. Frank Hudson says:

    My question was based on the comment above my first one, where you mention in passing “You gave me a good idea now with the secretary, i think there’s an interview around with her, somewhere, i’ll have a pillage of Google. ”

    I haven’t found anything yet, but dealing with the “Let be be the finale of seem” line in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” I got pointed to a google books excerpt that included a letter where Stevens explained what he wanted it to mean–at least to his correspondent on that occasion, so I was hoping someone else had found any accounts from his insurance company secretary to whom he is reported to have dictated many of his poems, as her impressions would be interesting.

    1. Apologies. i am on hiatus from the blog & have been for some time, so i’d forgotten about the secretary comment. i’m glad to see people still finding & reading the blog.

      i think there are some statements by his secretary in the Voices & Visions episode on Stevens. You can find the whole series if you search Voices & Visions in Google. She is not offered ample space to elucidate in any depth, if she even appears, which i have just the fragmented recollection that she does, it has been a while.
      For some essays on Stevens & one that analyses The Emperor, there is the Modern American Poetry resource at English.illinois.edu, which has quite a range of stuff, mostly fragments. i think the poem is about a funeral. Sorry i can’t be of more help. i never got around to writing anything on his secretary, i got diverted by other projects.

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